What is the difference between tort law and criminal law?


Quick Answer

While tort law aims to compensate a victim, criminal law aims to punish a criminal. In addition, while individuals or organizations pursue tort cases, it is usually the government that pursues criminal cases. There are also differences in terms of outcomes, like imprisonment versus compensation.

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Full Answer

Some of the key differences between tort and criminal cases include:

  • While criminal cases require the defendant to prove they are innocent, tort cases require the victim to prove the defendant's action resulted in their injury or wrong.
  • Although criminal defendants are guaranteed trial by jury, this is not always the case for tort defendants.
  • Tort derives from common law that passes down from generation to generation with small alterations, whereas criminal law derives from statutes.
  • In criminal cases it is necessary to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant had criminal intent, whereas accidental actions can result in a favorable outcome for the victim in tort law.
  • Defendants convicted under criminal law may face fines, imprisonment or death, whereas those convicted under tort usually pay compensation only.
  • In tort, a victim consenting to the action is a defense, but this is rarely the case in criminal trials.
  • When interpreting the law, it is necessary to look at precedent for criminal cases, but not always in tort.
  • Criminal cases do not compel the defendant to defend themselves, whereas tort cases do.
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